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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 3

Guy Soucie: 25 Years at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur

by Renée Banville / November 13, 2013

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An incubator of musical talents, the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur celebrates 25 years of existence this year. Many internationally known artists made their debut at this old chapel transformed to become a locus of music performance. Marc-André Hamelin, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Karina Gauvin, Wonny Song and Alexandre Da Costa, to name a few, are celebrities that have performed at the Chapelle.

Guy Soucie, directeur artistiqueStagnant financial resources have not deterred artistic director Guy Soucie from presenting thousands of high-quality free concerts and encouraging emerging artists across musical disciplines. Commonly known as Maison de la musique, the Chapelle is one of the most prestigious concert halls in Montreal. Its reputation goes well beyond our borders. Yet, this mythical place, inaugurated in 1988, has had its dark hours, as in 2008, when the City of Montreal authorities thought about closing it down. Shocked, the music community responded with claws and fangs. It showed indubitably that the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur had become a landmark of Montreal’s musical landscape.

A quaint chapel becomes a cultural landmark

The building that is home to the chapel was occupied by the Sisters of the Community of Notre-Dame du Bon-Pasteur of Angers for 140 years. Sold in 1979 by the Société d’Habitation du Québec, it was classified as a historical monument of religious character and transferred to the City of Montreal in 1984. The building has multiple functions and corresponds to its urban environment. Preserved in its original state, the cultural distribution is split into three sections: one section reserved for the Sisters of Madeleine (foyer), one for the cloistered sisters (exhibition hall) and the third for the congregation (concert hall). The Chapelle took some time to establish its current mission. Many avenues were evaluated, and finally the cultural service of the City of Montreal chose to make it a place for musical dissemination and to have Guy Soucie as its director.

On September 8, 1988, the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur opened its doors to the pianist Marc-André Hamelin, inaugurating by the same token its famous Fazioli grand piano. Its acquisition created havoc in the Montreal media, as well as for the city’s municipal councillors, who found its price of $82,000 too hefty. To end the polemic, Guy Soucie put to trial three grand pianos of the highest reputation. He then invited 15 of Montreal’s most famous pianists. Each of them was to play a few bars that would highlight each piano’s qualities and to make known the instrument of their choice. The majority of pianists preferred the Fazioli, which ended up being negotiated down to $62,000, and thus less expensive than its competitors. This famous grand piano, now valued at $200,000, was the first Fazioli in Montreal. It is the treasure of the Chapelle and a great pleasure for the pianists performing there.

The historic harpsichord from Jacob and Abraham Kirckman of 1772, a gift from the Gordon Jeffrey Music Trust of London, Ontario, was added to the Fazioli piano. The instrument was acquired through the Ralph Aldrich family, who appreciated the quality of the Chapelle’s musical activities. The harpsichord was presented to the public in November 2000 by Catherine Perrin and her harpsichordist friends, to collect funding for its restoration by harpsichord maker Yves Beaupré.

Artists & composers bubbling with ideas

A great testing ground for young musicians starting their career, the Chapelle each year offers a small room of 150 seats, more than 150 musical activities, as well as exhibitions related to music, in a space adjoining the concert hall. In 25 years, it has presented more than 15,000 artistic performances, as well as 5000 concerts and other events. More than 500,000 attendees have been part of its activities.

The Maison de la musique is much more than a performance venue. Since 2002, it has welcomed in-residence composers (Simon Bertrand, Nicolas Gilbert, Paul Frehner, Michel Frigon, Cléo Palascio-Quintin and Maxime McKingley) and instrumental ensembles (Trio Gagné-Richard, Trio Contraste, Trio de Montréal, Trio Fibonacci, Magellan Ensemble, Morpheus Ensemble and Transmission Ensemble). The effervescence created in its space makes the Chapelle a hub of projects. It’s the ideal space to create musical events such as the Concerts imaginés, Midi musique, public rehearsals and, above all, concerts featuring musical creations from young composers.

The artistic direction has also created some habits. Over the years, the Quatuor Molinari has held its Dialogues à la Chapelle, which precede its season concerts. The Via Crucis with Françoise Faucher and Jean Marchand is a tradition of Holy Friday, just as much as the jazzed Christmas carols of the pianist James Gelfand on the first Friday of December. The collaboration with consulates and embassies has enabled the Chapelle’s audience to discover musicians from around the world.

Pianist Wonny Song, who performed early on at the Chapelle, will launch the kick-off event for the 25th anniversary. “He was still so small,” comments Guy Soucie, “that he could hardly touch the pedals of the piano.” Other great musicians such as Marc-André Hamelin and Alexandre Tharaud will succeed him throughout the year. Through the generosity of artists, Guy Soucie has been able to create a breathtaking programme to celebrate his 25 years as captain of this prestigious institution. A highlight of this programme will be Louise Bessette four concerts throughout the season presenting 25 works composed over the last 25 years by 25 Quebec composers.

The Foundation of the Chapelle Historique, created by Soucie, enables the dynamic director to continue to offer its audience high-quality concerts and support to artists through residences, bursaries and commissioning of works, etc. To help the Foundation, an exceptional fundraising event will gather three great Quebec artists: contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux, soprano Karina Gauvin and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on the piano this time. Soon to come: a souvenir book written by Georges Nicholson.

Time to pass on the torch

A key figure of the artistic world, recipient of the Opus Prize as “artistic director for the year 2010”, known humorously as the “Verger of the Chapelle”, is starting to step aside. But he will not bow out without a few sparks. The artists, whom he has encouraged through high and low tides, are now thanking him as the untiring visionary who recognized and promoted their talents.

In homage to his 25 years of devotion as an artistic director, the Foundation of the Chapelle has created two Bursaries of excellence Guy-Soucie of $5000, to help the career of young musicians in Montreal. They will be given annually and alternately (piano and voice / strings, winds and percussions) to young graduates from one of the four universities in Montreal or the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. A jury made up of pianist and conductor Jean-Pascal Hamelin, Baritone Marc Boucher and music critic Carol Bergeron have looked at submissions made by candidates in voice and piano. Soprano Andréanne Paquin and pianist Marek Krowicki received the first two bursaries on October 1.

The chapelle will endure

As part of the launching of the programme on October 1, the director of the Cultural Services of the city of Montreal, Paul Langlois, confirmed that the city had the intention of keeping the current mission of the Chapelle. The Maison de la musique will continue to serve as a launching ramp for young musicians, to support composers and to maintain its collaboration with organisations, to uphold its high reputation, while conserving its varied programme to satisfy all its audiences. A reassuring declaration for the community!  

To consult the programme for the 2013-2014 season, check the website of the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur: www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/chapellebonpasteur

Translation: Emilie White

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